Punk rock yearnings in a changing Iran

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“It’s based on real life, but from the second you make a script, it becomes fictional,” says 37-year-old writer-director-comic artist Marjane Satrapi of the animated film “Persepolis,” which is based on her graphic novels inspired by growing up in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. “I ended up looking at the main character as the main character, not myself.” She also had to “cheat” and make changes so her story would come alive.

Satrapi’s film, which she co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud and which opens Dec. 25, has already scooped up the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a delightful -- yet poignant -- child’s-eye view on the the winnowing of personal freedoms under the harsh regime of the ayatollahs. The film evokes young Satrapi’s quest for contraband punk rock, the perennial irritation of keeping one’s headscarf correct and how to conduct romance in a country where unmarried men and women should not be seen in public together.

It chronicles her young years as an exile student in Vienna, adrift in the West. The French-language film is largely done in her trademark black-and-white style and features the voices of real-life daughter-mother Chiara Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve.


“Vincent and I wanted to make the movie universal,” says Satrapi of the evocation of post-revolution Iran. “Anybody can relate to the story -- for a human being, because of the changes around you, you as an individual feel completely pushed down. This movie is about peace and love. Vincent and I were hippies for six months talking about this movie.”

After the first installment of the French-language graphic novel appeared in 2002, Satrapi was inundated with offers from people who wanted to turn her life story into a movie.

She refused.

“I never had the pretensions to be a voice of a generation. But still you’ve got certain responsibilities. I cannot just sell the story and wait for them to make ‘Not Without My Daughter,’ but now the Iranians would be the nice ones,” says Satrapi, referring to the melodramatic 1991 Sally Field film about an American woman trapped in Iran. “Either I had to do it myself or it shouldn’t be done at all.”

-- Rachel Abramowitz